It’s all the rage and the statistics are astounding.  More than 300 million people worldwide are active participants on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, MySpace, and Hi5.  The growth rate of usage among these five is 50% per month combined.*

The demographics also bear some weight – more than 67% of the global online community subscribes to a social networking site. More than 45% of MySpace users are over the age of 26, and they average 4 hours per month on the site.  Social networking and blogging is the 4th most popular Internet activity.*
However, time is your biggest challenge when it comes to web presence.  Users used to spend up to 10 minutes on a website, now it’s down to seconds thanks to the increased usage of mobile devises like Blackberry, cell phones, etc.
So, what does this mean for your organization?  It means visibility, particularly if your organization engages in grasroots activism.  But to actually engage viable prospects, you and your staff must still resort to the tried and true – one-on-one contact.  
Social networking provides us with a free platform that combines the new with the old.  Here are some tips to help you use social networking to benefit your organization:
Set up a page on the site of your choice.  It’s free and easy, and if you use Causes on Facebook or MySpace, users can donate online or help raise money (small gifts) through viral marketing. Users can also become “fans” of your organization, and through pop-ups and postings, they can influence their friends to become fans, too.
–  Don’t rely on the existence of your page to garner the attention that your organization deserves.  Instead, use social networking to publicize every event, every “hit” in the press, and use every opportunity you can think of to be in front of millions of users on a regular basis.
Track users, thank them and make sure you follow up with them in a timely manner.  Set up a “thank you” posting that can be generated by your supporters when they get others in their network involved.  Add users to your database so that they will receive “traditional” forms of communications.
– Share your presence on social networking sites with your constituency.  In every newsletter, appeal and thank you note, you should let your constituents and donors know that your organization has become part of a worldwide movement.  You’ll be surprised how many people you know are social networkers, and they’ll be proud to share their connection to you with their friends.
Social networking can be a valuable tool in your toolbox.  It’s cost-effective and easy to use, and, through just a few clicks, your organization will gain visibility and potential supporters who “tweet”, “friend”, and “link” with millions of others around the world.
*Statistics courtesy of A Collection of Social Network Stats for 2009, January 11, 2009, Web Stats by Jeremiah, Jeremiah Owyang, www.web-strategist.com.